Scientists from Italy's national research council trooped through the streets of Milan dressed in black and accompanied by an empty hearse and a dirge-playing brass band as part of a "funeral for Italian research".
It was one of many protests during November against government plans to cut research spending from 1 per cent of gross national product to 0.8 per cent, compared with a European average of more than 2 per cent.
There was an appeal signed by thousands of senior researchers, including Nobel laureates such as Renato Dulbecco and Rita Levi Montalcini, who described the proposed cuts as "unacceptable" and appealed to parliament to amend the budget.
A vigorous campaign is being waged by the Association of Italian Doctoral Students. In a pamphlet, Brains on the Run , they warn that the exodus to other countries will inevitably increase if research spending is cut further.
Flaminia Sacca, ADI's national secretary, said: "Young Italian scientists who complete their research doctorates have two choices. They can go and work abroad, or stay here and face years of unpaid or underpaid work."
When the conservative government led by media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi came to power in June, it promised to increase research funding. But the situation changed when a "war budget" was implemented in the aftermath of September 11.